Saturday, January 15, 2005

Science Saturday

"In 1906, J.J. Thompson had received the Nobel Prize for proving that electrons are particles; in 1937 he saw his son awarded the Nobel Prize for proving that electrons are waves." I find this simply amazing. This is from John Gribbin's book "In Search of Schrodinger's Cat." He goes on to say that both views are merited. I am indebted to Gribbin for providing a simplified version of the awards' bases, and I hope he is reasonably accurate, as the references I found list the 1906 award as "in recognition of the great merits of his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases" and the 1937 award as "for their experimental discovery of the diffraction of electrons by crystals." My own feeble understanding is that if one looks for waves, waves will be found and if one looks for particles, particles it will be, and the results are complementary views of the same "thing."

The classic "double slit experiment" in which the smallest units, or quanta, of light, photons, are aimed thru two slits at a screen which records the place of impact, seems to show that each succeeding photon "knows" where the previous photons landed, so that the pattern produced by many photons is that of a wave phenomenon. How do they do that? No one knows. Gribbin quotes Richard Feynman saying this is "a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery....the basic peculiarities of all quantum mechanics." I recommend "Six Easy Pieces" by Feynman for much better explanation of the experiment and its implications, and other essays on basic physics.

I also drew for the above upon "Schrodinger's Rabbits" by Colin Bruce and "The Mind of God" by Paul Davies, as well as Gribbin's sequel "Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality." I like to listen to the audio recordings I have of Feynman's lectures, even though it is harder for me to follow a spoken voice than the written word, because I love his voice.

dread pirate roberts

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